Asking creative questions can change everything. A big, beautiful question can generate ideas, inspire action, influence engagement and participation, as well as solve problems and spark your creative genius. But there seems to be a progression or sequence of questions necessary to find truly innovative solutions. There are six questioning frameworks to the creative process.

In my coaching work, I hear from many clients that they don’t ask enough questions for fear of appearing stupid or uninformed. But research is showing that questions asked in the right way can lead to breakthrough thinking and disruptive innovations.

The Creative Process Through Questioning

Let’s explore some of the questioning frameworks people use to find creative solutions:

  1. 4 Stages: Nearly a century ago, the British psychologist Graham Wallas proposed a four stage process of creativity. In his 1926 book The Art of Thought, Wallas observed that creative solutions appear sequentially:

Preparation => Incubation => Illumination => Implementation

  1. 5 Whys: The five whys methodology originated in Japan with Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries. Asking why five times in succession is a means of discovering the root of a particular manufacturing problem. It can be applied to many areas, including behaviors. People are inclined to look for the easiest, most obvious explanation for a problem. Asking “why” five times leads to a deeper understanding of the problem.
  2. Contextual Inquiry: When you ask questions up close and in context, using observation, listening, and empathy, you’re likely to get a better understanding of problems in real time. This means going beyond the office and spending time with customers to find out what they really care about.
  3. Connective Inquiry: One of the ways to find new ideas is to connect existing ideas in unusual ways. It is also known as “combinatorial thinking.” One successful example of this is when Frederick Rueckheim observed the popularity of candy, peanuts and popcorn and created Cracker Jack in Chicago, adding a small prize to each box in 1913.
  4. Collaborative Inquiry: It’s never been easier than in today’s interconnected world to ask for help with ideas and creative solutions. Many of the most recent start ups are using access to a diverse world through technology to achieve speed, flexibility and ingenuity that would never have been possible ten years ago.
  5. Why – What if? – How? In my previous post here, I suggested these three sequential questions as a framework for developing innovative thinking. This is suggested by author Warren Berger in his book A More Beautiful Question.

What questions do you ask when you want to come up with creative solutions? What questions spark ideas with the people you work with? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.